Garinish Island or Ilnacullin is a remarkable West Cork island of 15 hectares in Glengarriff Harbour – an island garden of rare beauty known to horticulturists and lovers of trees and shrubs all around the world.
A remarkable creative partnership
The gardens of Ilnacullin owe their existence to the creative partnership, some 70 years ago, of Annan Bryce – then owner of the island – and the architect and garden esigner, Harold Peto.
They established coniferous shelter belts so that they could then implement Peto’s designs to create the distinctive gardens of Ilnacullin. After the death of Annan Bryce in 1923, the development of the gardens was continued by his widow, Violet. In 1932, their son, Rowland Bryce, took over this work, adding interesting plants from many parts of the world. He was ably assisted by Murdo Mackenzie, an outstanding Scottish gardener.
On the death of Rowland Bryce in 1953, the island was bequeathed to the Irish people and entrusted to the care of the Commissioners of Public Works. Murdo Mackenzie remained in charge of the garden when it passed into public ownership until his retirement in 1971.
Today, management of the island is in the hands of the Office of Public Works. In 2016, Bryce House was opened to the public by the Office of Public Works, and it is home to a fascinating and evocative museum about the Garnish Island project.
The history of Ilnacullen – Island of Holly
The alternative name Ilnacullin or Illaunacullin (Island of Holly) also has a long history in the locality, and appears on at least one early map, It may in fact be the older name for the island. As there is another island garden called Garnish not far away in County Kerry, there is much to be said for using the distinctive name Ilnacullin for the island garden at Glengarriff, County Cork, and this has been the practice of the Office of Public Works for some years now.
Garinish is one of the many islands off the West Cork coastline, and a trip to West Cork should include a visit to one of West Cork’s seven inhabited islands as well as a trip to Ilnacullen!
The ‘almost subtropical’ climate of Garinish Island
Annan and Violet Bryce were convinced that with its sheltered situation and the warming influence of the Gulf Stream, a wide range of oriental and southern hemisphere plants could flourish in the almost subtropical climate of Glengarriff.
Keenly interested in horticulture and architecture, the Bryces planned to build a mansion and lay out an extensive garden on the island. They commissioned the eminent English architect, Harold Peto, to design these features.
Plans for a mansion and distinguished guests
Plans for a mansion were prepared, to incorporate the Martello Tower, but it was never built. Instead the Bryce family made their home in the large cottage known as Bryce House. Among their guests were the writers George Bernard Shaw, who stayed on the island in 1923 while writing his play, Saint Joan, and the poet Æ, otherwise known as George Russell.
The design ethos of Harold Peto
Harold Ainsworth Peto (1854 – 1933) was an advocate of the Italian style of architecture and garden design although the wild Robinsonian style of gardening dominated his epoch. However, Peto believed that more formal styles could co-exist with the Robinsonian style and ought not to be neglected.
The Italian Garden is, perhaps, the outstanding feature of Garinish. Here, Peto’s genius, combined with Annan Bryce’s ideas and resources, resulted in the creation of a formal architectural garden which blends well with its natural setting.
An Italian tea-house or “Casita” of Bath stone with colonnades, a formal pool, an Italian pavilion with columns of “Rosso Antico” of a beautiful red colour, a Grecian Temple, marble slabs from Carrara, the Island of Scyros and Connemara are just some of the architectural features.
Ilnacullin is renowned for its richness of plant form and colour, which change continuously with the seasons.
Colour through the seasons
The vivid colours of Rhododendrons and Azaleas reach their peak during May and June, whilst the hundreds of cultivars of climbing plants, herbaceous perennials, and choice shrubs dominate the midsummer period from June to August.
Autumn colour, particularly on the magnificent heather bank, is rich during the usually mild autumn months of September and October.
Garinish Island Brochure
A brochure is freely available throughout the village with loads of great info on this fantastic island – you can also view and download a pdf version here.
How to get to Garinish Island
Garinish Island is open to the public from April to the end of October. Details of opening times and admission fees are available locally or at www.heritageireland.ie.
There are three main ferry services to Garinish Island, these are:
The Blue Pool Ferry
This ferry leaves from the Blue Pool Amenity Area, next door to Quills Woollen Market.
Tel: (+353) 027 63333
Mobile: (+353) 086 6013218
The Harbour Queen Ferry
This ferry leaves from the Pier, opposite The Eccles Hotel.
Ellen’s Rock Boat Service
This open ferry leaves from Ellen’s Rock about a mile outside the village on the Castletownbere Road.
Contact Kevin O’Sullivan on (+353) 027 63110
A charge for admission to Ilnacullin is made by the Office of Public Works on arrival at the island. This charge is quite separate from the fares collected by boat owners.
Even for those who are not particularly interested in gardens, Ilnacullin is an attractive place to visit.
There are many attractive views of the surrounding district from the island. Ilnacullin and its surrounding waters are rich in wildlife, and the seals which frequent the rocks on the southern shore are always of great interest to visitors.